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Takeaways: USF shows ‘fourth-quarter team’ mentality in close win over UConn

The Bulls converted on three of their six red zone attempts in their win on Saturday. USF ATHLETICS PHOTO

USF football secured a 24-21 win over UConn on Saturday, but there were moments of inconsistency littered throughout the game.

Related: USF narrowly beats UConn with ‘lackluster’ performance

The Bulls (4-4, 2-2 AAC) would march all the way down to the Huskies’ (1-6) four-yard line before turning the ball over on downs.  

In the next possession, the Bulls’ offense scored a touchdown but only recorded three points combined in the second and third quarters. 

However, they would outscore the Huskies in the fourth quarter 14-7 and win on a nine-play, 90-yard drive with four minutes remaining.

Bulls coach Alex Golesh said he was encouraged by his team’s fourth-quarter response, even if their first three-quarters of play was ‘lackluster.’  

He also said that the Bulls included late-game drills in practice to better prepare for scenarios like on Saturday.

“We talked about being a fourth-quarter team and we work on it every single day in practice…and that showed up today,” he said.

Here are additional takeaways from Saturday’s game. 

Rushing attack returned in a big way

The Bulls ran for 260 yards against the Huskies on Saturday – their most since the season opener against Western Kentucky on Sept. 2. It was a step in the right direction after only managing 138 rushing yards against Florida Atlantic on Oct. 14.

Related:Time to be honest about USFs defense after demoralizing homecoming loss to FAU

Senior running back Nay’Quan Wright was a bright spot last week recording 101 rushing yards on 14 attempts. He would continue that trend against UConn. 

Wright rushed for 186 yards and two touchdowns on 26 carries. They were career highs in all three categories.

Golesh said the former Gator is realizing his potential as a leader on the field.

“I think he’s earned that opportunity and I think he’s always had it in him, but his work capacity has allowed him to feel real confidence in leading,” he said. “So he’s vocal in a really positive way.” 

The second of Wright’s two touchdowns gave the Bulls their eventual game-clinching lead.

He said his strong performance on Saturday meant more to him than last week because it contributed to a victory.

“Winning is very hard,” Wright said. “We get a win no matter how large the lead is or how small…it’s very hard no matter what level you’re on. So we definitely enjoy your wins.”

Defense showed a bounce-back effort

After two consecutive blowout losses, the Bulls’ defense put together a solid performance. They only allowed 21 points to the Huskies. 

Related: Defensive woes persist in homecoming blowout loss to FAU

USF had three forced fumbles and forced UConn’s offense to convert on nine of its 13 third-down conversions. 

The Bulls capped off their final two defensive possessions by forcing two fumbles, which prevented the Huskies from responding.

Stokes recorded an interception and a fumble recovery along with seven tackles and 2.5 tackles for loss. 

He said that the past two games were the worst of his career, but felt the Bulls’ defensive unit found itself again on Saturday. 

“We know those weren’t the best games we could have put up,” Stokes said. “So we were trying to get back to our style and get back to us.” 

Passing offense saw slow start

The Bulls ran the ball frequently as they struggled to gain passing momentum through the first half.

USF only managed 62 passing yards during the first half and just 45 in the third quarter.

Golesh said their performance through three quarters was reminiscent of the last two games. He said the Bulls could have performed better on third down.

The first-year head coach also said that freshman quarterback Byrum Brown looked “uncomfortable” passing in the pocket during the first half.

Brown completed 29 of his 37 passes for 209 yards and threw an interception. He said he sees more opportunities for growth in his passing ability.

“I started off slow,” Brown said. “I just got to come out faster and…trust the guys up front. That’s been my emphasis for a couple of weeks now.”

The bye week comes at a crucial time

After eight weeks of play, the Bulls will enter a much-needed bye week.

They shouldn’t rest on their victory though, as they face Memphis on Nov. 4. The Tigers (5-2, 2-1 AAC) are ranked fourth in the American conference standings. 

Brown said the team will look to rest and prepare for the final stretch of the season.

“We’re gonna enjoy it for 24 hours and get back to work,” he said.